Nathan Tailleur contributed reporting

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Ithaca, N.Y. — The four-year graduation rate at the New Roots charter school has dropped to 51 percent, according to data released by the school this week.

“A 51 percent graduation rate is utterly unacceptable,” Superintendent and Principal Tina Nilsen-Hodges said in an interview. “It’s unacceptably low.”

Nilsen-Hodges said there were several mitigating factors that are important to keep in mind when judging the relatively low graduation rate of New Roots, which opened in 2009:

Year an ‘anomaly’

— Graduation rates are counted by “cohort,” or the group of students who entered high school in the same year. The 51 percent figure is for those who entered high school in 2010.

The school expects a 75 percent graduation rate for the group that entered in 2011. 71 percent of those who started high school in 2008 and 67 percent of those who started in 2009 graduated on time.

“Based on our past track record plus our projections for this year that rate is an anomaly,” she said.

New Roots may face closure from the state if its graduation rate stays at around the 50 percent mark. But, Nilsen-Hodges said, “We are very confident that (future) cohorts are in a strong position to meet or exceed the performance standards.”

Students start elsewhere

— About 80 percent of students in the 2010 cohort started high school elsewhere.

“They started their high schools somewhere else and then something significant enough happened that they made the change to our school,” Nilsen-Hodges said.

Nilsen-Hodges said those joining this class included students who moved from out of town or may have faced problems at their old high schools.

Small sample size

— New Roots is small — fewer than 100 students — so the sample size is also small. That means a relatively small change in the number of student graduations can make a big impact on the overall graduation rate.

“Every student makes a significant impact on that number in ways you don’t see in a larger high school,” she said.

5-year graduation rate

— If the nine students in the 2010 cohort who re-enrolled for 2014 graduate within the year, the five-year graduation rate will be 69 percent.

Mix of student backgrounds

— Students who join New Roots come from dozens of school districts and different educational models and expectations.

“It’s just a unique situation,” Nilsen-Hodges said.

“We’re working really hard in helping each and every student graduate from high school.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.